The Bitter Pill of Theory

Let faces and theories be turn'd inside out! Let
meanings be freely criminal, as well as results! ...

Let the theory of America be management, caste,
comparison! (Say! what other theory would

-- Whitman, "Respondez!"

I was interested in the reaction of some of those in the seminar to aesthetic experience of reading this chunk of "theory" (nonfiction prose?) -- what Danny identified, sardonically, as the "core" reading of a series of readings that ostensibly resists a "core" of this kind. (But every apple has a core, every horizon a philosophic song ...).

Here we have (or is already "had"?) a constellation or sequence (not a series) from (mostly) in/around the 1970s that try to give an account/envisionment of the "mind forg'd manacles," imagined in various ways in terms of ideology or world-veiling overlays. What happens when such a set of reading is put within a succession of fictional (or speculative/science fictional), pataphysical, or poetic versionings? Do we read them, as Cecilia did, as ghost stories (or latter day horror stories, a genre some say was invented by Poe)? Do the different prose styles themselves seem difficult or is it prescriptive or is it mypoic or is just the opposite too panoptic? Or maybe just paranoid? Or nihilist? Or (as I noted is a common accusation against Goffman and Wittgenstein): behaviorist?

Or is the bitterness the bad news not the bearer of the news?

Or a reflection that we all (by which I mean some of us want) to be "bad subjects" not just of ISAs but of ideology studies?

And what then, as Caroline and others asked, is the role of students, scholars, intellectuals in the face of this bad news (bad news in the sense that the problem of our society is deep, systematic, like a virus in Burrough's sense)? (I've added Gouldner to the week 9 bibliography: his work on intellectuals as a possible new class but esp. on the "culture of critical discourse" -- the language of professionalized intellectuals/academics -- is relevant.)

Then Danny's question, which I took to be a pressing question: not just what does this have to do with poetry but what claims are being made (explicitly but more by implication, tacitly) about such a relation. Parataxis and juxtaposition (or one set of readings after another) is not an argument. But then, thinking of the cold war period, the great anitipathy in "creative writing" centers against "theory" and even philosophy (Filreis takes this up; see also Fenza in the supplemental reading for that week). (See especially Jed Rasula's American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects 1940-1990.)

On the issue of speech/writing, grammar, legitimating codes of language (as for example Alan's post in/around Bourdieu): we will indeed pick this up in week 9.

Jonathan raises the issue of the poet's name being used (and abused) as a synedoche (or token) of various poetry ideologies (or point of view or allegiances or ...) (:: as a banner or galvanizing point, standard in the sense of a flag or sign to lead a group). Such use (and abuse) raises the problem of historical and aesthetic distortion, on the one hand, and the problem of the search for the "real" poet, on the other.

See Amy's post for example on the way the search for the "real" Marx is used in one of our readings; and irrespective of that critique of Raymond Williamns. the trope (?) of the "real" Marx has surely been used in large world-changing political contexts.

A full discussion of poet as synedoche would have to take into account Harold Bloom's theory of "misprisioning" (misunderstanding) of strong poets as the basis for the work of later "great" poets. Rothenberg responds directly to Bloom in his essay book, so you will see that this week. It might be interesting to ask Jerry or Jeffrey Robinson about the use of the names of Romantic poets as synedoche: not only Jerry (or my) use of Blake but also Helen Vendler's use of Keats. (I trace the use of Robert Lowell's & Elizabeth Bishop's names in The New York Times in the supplement to the neoliberal imagination section; I think this speaks directly to the phenomenon Jonathan points to and in many ways sets the stage for the counter-discourse by Marjorie Perloff and others-- he could have also mentioned Rothenberg or Kenner -- to which he refers).

I am not sure there is a solution to this problem: neither unmasking the idolaters (see Jarvis again on the Young Hegelians) to find the "true" or "real" poet/text or letting such Proper Names be promiscuously unmoored from their works and socio-historical context. This then is the burden of McGann's Romantic Ideology: so stay tuned to most these same stations.

I loved Vaclav's "always historicize" story and that reminded me of my Beograd philosopher friend (Miko Suvakovic) and his attraction to Quine just for its ahistorical formlism. Then again, always historicize the historizing leads to a virtually infinite regress, just as surely as the "end of ideology/history" leads to unregulated markets.

"I once was blind but now I see" or "They are blind to what we see" is not dialectical materialism or social formalism at its best.

As Marlene Dietrich sings in bombed out postwar Berlin in Billy Wilder's 1948 A Foreign Affair, in that incredible historical moment of transition from one totalizing system of illusions to another one -- the transition form the failed final solution and end of history, which we see (as if seeing an ideology) in ruins to what we call now the Cold War: "Want to to buy some illusions? / slighty used, second hand?"


Provide feedback on this information
Did this information solve your problem?
I don't know
Was this information relevant?
What can we do to improve this information?
To protect your privacy, do not include contact information in your feedback.